Book Review: The Rebel Angels by Robertson Davies

Book Review: The Rebel Angels by Robertson Davies

Title: The Rebel Angels
Author: Robertson Davies
Series: The Cornish Trilogy, Book 1
Publisher: Penguin
Paperback: 326 pages
Source: Chicago Public Library
Summary: (taken from Goodreads)

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Defrocked monks, mad professors, and wealthy eccentrics – a remarkable cast peoples Robertson Davies’ brilliant spectacle of theft, perjury, murder, scholarship, and love at a modern university. Only Mr. Davies, author of Fifth Business, The Manticore, and World of Wonders, could have woven together their destinies with such wit, humour-and wisdom.

Overall Rating: 3 out of 5

I’m not really sure how I feel about Rebel Angels, to be honest. This novel is a literary contemporary that focuses on two main characters within a Canadian university — a professor and a student. It explores the meaning of academia, what it means and what it contributes; the value of success, what success looks like, and how the definition of success changes based on what group you’re involved with; and, what relationships are meant for, what they mean, and how we’re supposed to go about them.

Basically, it wanders through a whole lot of complex ideas and tries to make sense of them. They’re interesting in and of themselves, but the book does feel like it meanders through the story because of the philosophical ideas that it takes on. I didn’t hate it, but I also didn’t love it. I found quite a few of the topics incredibly interesting — the student main character (Maria), for instance, is a gypsy who is trying to cast off her heritage and make a name for herself in academia, and having that culture talked about through her point of view is fascinating (I want to learn more!). The other main character I found somewhat boring, but he provides the foil to Maria’s young, brown, female character to give the more common perspective of the older white man.

If you’re into academic, literary writings, then this is for you. It provides a lot of food for thought and tons of stuff for analysis and contemplation. This is the opposite of a light, fun summer read — this is an undertaking (and it has sequels!). It has its dramatic points but it feels like it’s mostly written for the ideas and philosophies it explores.

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